Youth Austell Way out west

I hate it when weather forecasts are accurate. Well, I mean, no I don’t. In fact I quite like it. But I hate it when the weather forecast says “Darren, where you are it’s going to tip it down with rain and you’d prefer it not to”. Such was the case overnight on Friday, as I woke up at just before 5am to the dual dawn chorus of rain falling hard against the brittle roof of our carriage, and the early morning express trains zooming past a yard or so from the window.

After giving up on getting back to sleep, I started watching wrestling on my iPad and promptly fell asleep. Good work, me. At around 0830 I woke up again, and woke Helen up too: darling, wake up, we’ve got o leave in an hour.

This is actually a later start than most Saturdays. Last week I ran my 14th parkrun in a row, but the streak is broken because there are only a handful in Cornwall and they’re all impossible to reach by public transport. Annoyingly, they’re also all in beautiful locations. Never mind.

So, yeah, rather than get up and run, we had to sort ourselves out for a train just after half nine. A rather panicky 40-odd minutes of showering and making cheese sandwiches later, we’re on the platform and heading to St Austell. To my surprise and delight we’re on a big fuck-off long comfortable intercity train. Being the only people boarding at St Germans, we’re instantly asked for out tickets and purchase a Cornwall day ranger ticket for £13 each. Then I eat cheese and a flapjack, and scribble lines in a train timetable next to the services I believe we should aim for today.

40-odd minutes of dreary misty rainy landscape later and we pull into St Austell, home to a brewery and pretty much fuck all else of interest. But we know there’s a bus in 20 minutes time that’ll take us somewhere interesting. The Cornwall ranger is valid on trains and buses, but the driver doesn’t recognise the ticket. He waves the QR code under his scanner but it does fuck all, so just waves us to go sit down.

Forgive us for not staying here very long.

Twelve Germans board after us, including the lad who’d sat across the aisle from us on the train, tired enough he could sleep with his head resting against the seat in front. 10 minutes later we’re driving through a village called Trethurgy, which to me sounds like an entry in a “causes of death in the 1500s which no-one knows the meaning of” list.

A further 10 minutes pass and we get off the bus, the driver regaling Helen with a bona fide west country “alright my lovely!” as we step away. Who cares that the weather is shitty and grim outside when there’s a load of artificial climate to visit? Hello, Eden Project.

It’s a bit like an airport: you think you’re there, but then it’s bloody ages until you really are. There are a load of huge carparks named after fruits, and even when we get off the bus it’s another few minutes to the entrance building. Once there, we’re greeted by horses made out of driftwood.

Inside we flash our train ticket, earning a 10% discount on entrance. A day ticket and a yearly tickets is the same price, because they plainly know that most people won’t be arsed to come back. We decide we definitely will. We almost certainly won’t, of course, but whatever. Shit, would you look at them biomes?

Look! Behind us! Biomes!

To reach the biomes we follow the Zig Zag Through Time, which basically means a bunch of ferns and stuff with a few plaques about dinosaurs. Despite the rottern weather and low season there are still a bunch of families with kids around, almost as if other people had realised it’s an all-weather attraction that’s both fun and educational. Bastards.

After about 3 zigs and 4 zags, there’s a huge fucking bee.

The last thing before the entrance is basically an allotment, full of garlic and chicory and stuff.

After the last zag we’re inside. To the left, rainforest, and to the right, Mediterranean. For no significant reason we opt for the left turn, taking our coats off ‘cos it might be a bit warm in there.

It’s kind of amazing, to be honest. Like Wisley RHS, except if it was in a hybrid of South America and Africa, there’s tons and tons of exotic plants, most of which are enormous.

It’s lush and verdant and warm. Around our feet are birds; near the start we’re quite amazed, but by the end of our tour we’ve seen tons of the things. They’re tame and wandering in pairs, basically husband and wife. It’s very cool.

Let’s go see Roul Roul.

The structure of the biome doesn’t really spoil anything, in fact it adds to the experience. The fire escapes, less so.

I’m a bit surprised how little things smell. I expected smells. The temperature is very pleasant though. Do wish there were fewer kids around mind.

We’re taught that around the world, plants have always had multiple uses. This one is for witchcraft and prostate problems; another is for flavouring fish soup, and warding off malevolent spirits.

This waterfall was called “gurners’ point”.

Up top, it’s raining. This is a rain forest, after all.

After a while we hit the wooden paths which start to gently rise; this is the rainforest canopy walkway, culminating in a viewing platform in the centre, high above everything. Before that, though, a rope bridge.

I walk slower than Helen for several reasons. She’s not quite as confident as me at striding across, but also she’s very sensibly using the ropes while I opt to hold nothing. My lack of speed is also an act of kindness, since that shields her from hearing the bloke behind me “entertain” his kids with “boingy boingy boingy! Don’t look down!” taunts the whole way.

It’s all very green, apparently. I’m colour blind innit. Anyway, up top there’s a bunch of paintings on rocks depicting...stuff. We didn’t really hang around to read too much, because of all the excitable kids running around the place.

Eventually we reach a “30 minutes to the top” sign, but y’know what - that platform, up the narrow metal staircase to the viewing platform? FUCK THAT. There is no way you are getting either of us up there, we are each too big of a wouss to even try.

So, we wind our way back down towards ground level. This part of the biome is concentrating less on habitats and more on produce: the displays are all about palm oil, sugar, chocolate, and bananas. At the bottom there’s actually a little kiosk open selling baobab smoothies.

They are fucking fantastic, and it’s not only us that thinks so.

The roul roul birds are everywhere now. Very tame, very cute.

There’s spider lillies and some other stuff. I mean, seriously, I’ve no real idea what most of the stuff we saw is actually called. I loved the whole biome - we both did - but my overriding reaction was that it’s not really aimed at me. I had one of those rare moments when I appreciate just how incredibly lucky I am to have stumbled my way into and through a life where I get to see a bunch of stuff like this where it actually is, rather than in some glorified greenhouses in deepest darkest Cornwall. For those less fortunate than I this is utterly fantastic, and hopefully a good chunk of the kids who come here are interested enough to work hard on ensuring habitats and environments like those recreated here are less endangered.

As usual, profundity melts away pretty quickly. We leave the biome and pop into the gift shop, where I try on hats that don’t fit me and get angry about the notepads which people have already drawn in. Helen buys some pasty shaped chocolate, and after a swift vape break we fight through the crowds of families to enter biome number 2, the Mediterranean.

It quickly dawns on us that we’ve done this in the wrong order. Immediately inside the biome is the recreation of a lacklustre Spanish courtyard. Then, er, another one.

Some of the plants are quite pretty, and I’m sure if you’re in the mood to learn stuff then you could. But there’s just much less here, and what there is isn’t as impressive as in the rainforest. Perhaps that’s due to familiarity, but we’re not certain it’s that simple. We think it’s just a bit shit.

Don’t get me wrong, some of the big cactus-y things are quite cool. The benches and rocks, less so.

The colours are good, so long as you’re not interested in yellows or blues or anything that isn’t green or red or brown or orange. Though bear in mind I’m colour blind; for all I know you lot are seeing this pop off the page in dazzling splendour, although I suspect Helen wouldn’t have found it so naff if that were the case.

We entertain ourselves with a bit of a photo-off, basically me claming victory whenever the iPhone’s portrait mode manages to bestow a modicum of faux talent on my fingers.

Look at all them bokeh, eh? I mean, the plant is quite nice too. But the bokeh! The bokeh! That’s what modern people are inerested in.

It’s not all plants. There’s weird art as well, like a big bull.

We spend about 15 minutes tops in here, compared to over an hour in the rainfoest. Sorry, Eden Project. We really do love your work, but a better balance is worth pursuing.

So that’s the indoors done. There’s two more big buildings, but one of them is the winter ice rink and the other, The Core, is closed until spring. It’s raining again and we’ve got some time to kill before the next bus, so we wander through unpleasant drizzle into the “Avenue of Senses” ... which assaults none of them really, and then to the “Spiral round the core”.

The branches form a corridor that’s too low.

The lake and spider are sponsored by Homebase.

It’s just a bit wet, really. That rainforest was good though.

Round the back, up in the lift, and there’s a bridge across to the entrance building again. Some nice views of the whole complex.

The gift shop is huge, obviously. Helen wants to buy ALL THE PLANTS AND SEEDS but is buying none. In fact, the only thing which gets purchased is a bottle of the stout made by the St Austell Brewery, which I’ve never seen before. I’ll have that back at the carriage, I reckon.

With not long left, we buy two pasties from the cafe and walk up the long-ish hill to the bus stop. The pasties are expensive and disappointing. The bus is empty and deposits us back at St Austell railway station, with just enough time to buy a Diet Coke and a Ribena (full disclosure: this blog is sponsored by neither) and pop over the stairs to the eastbound platform.

The train is a bone-rattling two carriage piece of junk, pretty much full already. We stay on a few stops until Liskeard, at which we change onto a branch line.

Helen is uncertain as to the 3rd platform’s location until I direct her. It’s just there, see? I am horrified by how I look and decide that once I’m back in London I absolutely have to sort my diet out and get back out running 20+km a week. Don’t fuck it up, Darren.

15 minutes or so later the train arrives. It only has one carriage, and is plastered with advertising for South Devon up and down. Bit weird, not being in Devon. This line, Liskeard to Looe, is one of the four branches in Cornwall that are all renowned scenic rides you can take. I’m excited because we happen to be on one of the two daily services that will stop at Coombe Junction Halt, which recently was one of the two least used stations in the UK (until, it seems, gaining publicity for that very fact and subsequently having 10 times as many visitors the following year).

So, we spiral out from Liskeard to Coombe Junction but, as far as we can tell, do not actually pull into the station. That’s probably because it’s a request stop and there’s no-one around, really. 6 or so other people are on this train and everyone’s going to Looe; that said, one couple have asked them to stop at Sandplace because their mate is waiting there.

The ride is not scenic. It’s bleak, in fact. As exciting as it is to watch the guard and driver pop out, operate the points, and change direction, the 20 minutes spent staring out at bleak,dismal, bare winter forest alongside a shitty river and a few fields full of occupied caravans are not very touristy. But then the river opens out wide as we come towards the end and then we’re there, at Looe.

I fucking love visiting the British seaside out of season. With the sky now entirely white cloud and no hint of rain it’s not unpleasant to walk around and I’m happier than a pig in shit. Not far south of the station is the bridge across the river, joining East and West Looe. We’re not entirely sure which side we’re meant to favour, but since we’re already East we figure we’ll start there.

The town centre starts right next to the bridge. There are closed takeaways, closed souvenir shops, and other closed shops. Some stuff is open: Boots, the Co-Op, some remarkably popular coffee shop. A few pubs look open, and Helen’s eye is taken by some owls for sale so we venture into a shop which seems, at first glance, to only sell Harry Potter stuff. But that’s not all it sells; there’s a bunch of other tat and HOLD THE FUCKING PHONE WHAT THE FUCK YOU’RE SELLING GOLLIWOGS? Not just one, not even just one size. There’s shelves full of the fucking things. I mean, wait, what? It’s not marmalade paraphernalia you know. And it’s 2018!

Just about picking our jaws up from the floor, we skirt around the shop and the ebullient girl on the till asks if we need any help. “We also sell wands, you know!”. No, you’re alright thanks, we might be back later (as goes the standard “we’re never coming back” lie).

A little while later we go past a pasty shop that won the world pasty awards in 2017. Thing is, we’re not hungry, and even if we were we’ve already had pasty today. God damn it. Anyway, onwards to the beach, please. It must be around here somewhere. Perhaps these gulls know the way?

You just keep right on walkin’, y’hear?

Aha! Here it is! This muddy sand covered in shitloads of seaweed!

I love this. Properly properly love it.

It’s not cold, but it’s not warm either. It’s kinda loud and bleak and unpleasant and awesome.

Helen loves it too.

Someone built a sandcastle. It’s shit weather in January. Did I mention I loved this?

The town had been pretty bloody empty. Half the shops had been shut, since they’re mostly aimed at tourists and we’re the only two around, and we hadn’t told anyone we were coming. We’re quite thirsty and Helen says she spotted a pub on the beach. Er, yeah, I had too, but do you really want to go there...?

No. Jesus H Christ, the Boscarn looks horrific. But I know we walked past a few much nicer looking places back in the town, and sure enough the Salutation Inne is cracking. At 3.30pm or so on a Saturday afternoon we just about find a seat by being customers 5 and 6 in this town centre venue. Bustling this ain’t. Just by opening the door we get a notably exuberant “hiya!!!!” from the lass who then pops behind the bar to serve us our half of cider and pint of Tribute.

It’s lovely, but we’re already wondering how to get home. Nothing around here is as it seems; one part of the internet has convinced Helen that there’s a 1645 bus from up near the bridge all the way to St Germans, and will only take half hour or so. I’m suspicious, and while she’s in the loo I find another part of the internet that says the bus company which operates that 572 service went out of business in 2015 after two arson attacks killed all its buses. Huh.

So, back to plan A, the dual train home. Not every train back to Liskeard meets up with a train back to St Germans, so we resolve to get the 1727, which means we’ve still got 90 minutes or so to kill. The pasty shop opposite has now shut so bang goes that plan for provisions, but let’s go for another drink - in fact, why don’t we give West Looe a chance?

We’d spotted two main things from the East - a large amusement arcade, which was open, and a pub, which now that we’re right next to it we discover is shut. OK then. So down the river bank and past ... well basically nothing. Another hotel, and the West Looe social club (“a multi-screen venue!”, like having more than one TV is A Thing), and then - aha! Look, a pub!

Not just any pub, in fact, but Looe’s oldest pub, the Jolly Sailor. Pint, then?

There’s many more people in here than the pubs in the East, but it’s still not what you’d call busy. We grab a table in a nook and I fail dismally to take much notice of any conversation, because according to numerous sources AFC Wimbledon are 3-0 up away against Bradford. No, wait, shit the fucking bed, we’re FOUR nil up. 4-0! If it stays like this I’m a big chunk of change to the good, thanks to my “Dons to win by 3 or more” bet. C’mon you Dons!

If only Pigott scored one of them. Every silver lining has a cloud.

Cracking result. Awesome. Fantastic. But enough football, we’ve got a train to catch and in fact, before that, provisions to buy. Back across the river we know there’s a Co-Op and we go in there, to buy cheese and beef and bread and diet coke and booze. The liquids are for tonight, the solids for the morning. On the till is another inordinately friendly man, but given the whole golliwog thing my “wow, everyone’s dead nice” reaction is counteracted by an urge to black up and see how they’d treat me then. But, well, perhaps “blacking up” shouldn’t really be a thing either.

Back to the station past the Shell garage, which has one of those “please consider our neighbours and be quiet when leaving” signs. I’m used to those in pubs - the Jolly Sailor’s said “silent streets, happy homes” - but a petrol station? Really?

Light is fading, which makes things look quite pretty really. Also there’s a load of rocks spelling out the word LOOE. There is no-one else waiting for the train, though two other people turn up just before it does. Literally zero people get off. I adore that this service exists year round (though not on Sundays in winter). Helen consults a local map and says “Hey! There’s a henge!” before bringing me back down to earth with “Oh, wait, it says ‘hedge’”.

The bloke responsible for Looe station died in the same year as it opened. Hope he got to see the fruits of his labour. I appreciate your work, Joe.

Just out of town is a poor man’s level crossing. There’s no barriers, just a sign that tells the train driver to slow down and “whistle” (honk, these days) before proceeding across the road. Cute. Light has now gone completely, and we stop at not a single one of the intermediate places. At Liskeard there are tons of people waiting to get on though, probably even 15 or so. Must be rush hour.

Liskeard is also dead. There’s a pub opposite the station with lights on, but it’s clearly closed. I figure it’s a seasonal venue but the owners, who must live there, have thought “hang on, we live in a fucking pub!” and have set up in private for the evening. That’s no use to us though, so we loiter in the station building. A stream of people arrive and buy tickets to Plymouth, and then the train comes in. It’s another big comfortable intercity service with first class ‘n all that. We’re only travelling one stop, but we have to shift down 3 carriages because he announces St Germans platform is too short.

15 minutes later we’re back at the carriage. Almost everything gets put in the fridge and we bugger off straight back out, because y’know what, we’ve decided to go to Scholars. It’s about 1835, so it’s been open a while and we’re very bloody hungry and the reviews on Facebook are all universally positive. We approach and the opening hours are out there written on a blackboard on the street but, of course, the fucking place is shut. God damn it.

Plan B, then. Further and into St Germans and the pub. It’s Saturday evening, almost 7pm, it’ll be rammed, right? Right. Wait, no, not right. It’ll have 4 people in it. Ha. As with the Salutation back in Looe, it’s being staffed by an excitable woman who greets us warmly and instantly asks if we want a tab just because we might want food.

Well, not might: we do. But drinks first. I’ll have a pint of that St Austell Brewery stout which I bought a bottle of earlier, expecting not to find it anywhere. Half of Rattler cider for the lady, thanks. I also get one of the “buy five pints, get one free” cards - valid only in this pub, and limited to three free pints a week(!)

The food menu is as fancy as it needs to be, which is to say not fancy at all. We order bangers and mash twice, one regular and one small. There’s veg on the side ‘n all, and it’s very nice. A table of women arrive and sit near us, one of whom seems to be the local vicar, and she gives me a really nasty look when I drop an F-bomb. Whoops, sorry vicar!

I convince Helen that we should have a second drink, especially because it’s table service. But that’s our lot; we’ve another big day tomorrow, especially because the train schedules on Sunday are even more bonkers than the Saturday timetable. And as for Monday...but let’s not get ahead of ourselves. Back up the hill and of course, Scholars is bloody open now. Argh! Whatever. In the van, out comes the rhubarb cider and “black pale ale”. Black and pale? Make your bloody mind up.

Trivial pursuit is unleashed while photos transfer between devices, because we know how to tear shit up on a Saturday night. Then I start to write this, meaning I’m no longer loud or annoying enough to keep Helen awake and she buggers off to bed. I’m condemned to suffer the rolling nature of BBC News on Freeview while I type. But now that I’m on the verge of finishing, at the end of this sentence, I think I’ll have me a nightcap.

Created By
Darren Foreman

Report Abuse

If you feel that this video content violates the Adobe Terms of Use, you may report this content by filling out this quick form.

To report a Copyright Violation, please follow Section 17 in the Terms of Use.